by Kyle Massey
Posted 2/5/2018 12:00 am
Updated 1 week ago
Nielsen is a fabled name in television ratings history, but in smaller markets like Arkansas, it has long been the technological equivalent of a handwritten letter in the Snapchat age.
Participating households fill out a diary of their viewing habits during ratings periods and mail in their responses.
With newer, more advanced rating tools, KATV News Director Nick Genty can punch up details of what Arkansans are watching second by second, with a level of detail that amazes TV veterans.
His new tools, comScore and Sorenson, are technology-based analytics that offer Little Rock’s ABC affiliate much faster results and far wider statistical samples.
Sorenson, a ratings metric that’s actually built into smart TVs, gives Genty and his colleagues at the Sinclair-owned station a granular view of their audience in near real time, and a glimpse of their competitors’ viewership.
“Nielsen in this market is still handwritten, and after the ratings period closes, I have to wait three weeks to get any results,” Genty said. “And we get like an 8 percent return rate to make programming decisions on. In smaller counties, or even targeted counties, you might get six or 10 books back. So you’re making decisions based on 10 people who hand-wrote out what they watched on TV.”
Among KATV’s competitors, KARK dropped the Nielsen service altogether several years ago; KTHV is still a subscriber. Other TV stations around the country have abandoned Nielsen in recent years, and it’s no longer the ratings bible it became after initiating TV analytics in 1950, when “Texaco Star Theater” on NBC was the most-watched show on the 10 million TV sets in use at that time.
Nielsen reigned for decades, as No. 1 shows like “Gunsmoke” (1960), “Laugh-In” (1970), “Dallas” (1980), Roseanne (1990) and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (2000) ruled the airwaves.
In 2018, however, Nielsen’s small-market methods seem increasingly antiquated compared with comScore and Sorenson Media, which collects anonymized data from millions of smart TVs under a deal with Inscape, a subsidiary of the privately held TV maker Vizio. “Sinclair is still part of the Nielsen family, but with comScore we have about 120,000 connected homes in the market that provide data” largely gathered from satellite dish services and multichannel video programming distributors, said General Manager Mark Rose. “We get reliable data about a week later, and two weeks later, the reliability is really strong.” How strong? “Strong enough to be sellable to advertisers,” Genty said.
Sorenson, which had enlisted more than 80 U.S. stations by October 2017, lets Genty and Rose know exactly when viewers tune in and where they’re coming from, as well as when they leave and what programming drew them away. “You can go second by second, which is kind of daunting,” Genty said.
Rose said he can’t compare costs among Nielsen, comScore and Sorenson because “Sinclair negotiates for the entire group.” But KATV is sold on the system, which it has used extensively for about a year. “We can show a screen of our newscast and a chart of the Sorenson numbers side by side with a competitor,” Rose said. “We overlay the data with comScore and Nielsen’s market research, and we can look across the street at the reactions our competitors are getting, what’s resonating with their viewers, and how the audience is reacting to content. Research is never 100 percent certain, but we can track the numbers and find continuity.”
Sorenson’s potential in targeted advertising is also immense, Rose said. “They continue to expand in this smart television world, and soon broadcasters and marketers will be able to offer advertising with addressable content. So if you’re watching the news in Little Rock and your brother is watching in Conway, he may see a Caldwell Toyota spot in Conway while you’ll have a Crain Automotive ad running in the same commercial break. From a news standpoint, things like tornado warnings and Amber alerts could be directed at just certain areas, allowing people elsewhere to keep watching their regular programming.”
The numbers also help Genty in coaching reporters. “If they’re telling me they need five minutes to tell a story, I can show them how viewership falls after a couple of minutes,” he said.
By any measure, the KATV news team loves ratings, not least because they lead the pack. At 6 a.m., according to November’s numbers, KATV’s “Daybreak” had a 22.7 percent share, compared with 17.57 for KTHV and 13.36 for KARK. At 6 p.m., Channel 7’s newscast had a 21.1 share to 11.92 for KARK and 10.11 for KTHV.
Those numbers, by the way, are from comScore. KATV stopped citing Nielsen in its news releases in mid-2017.